i grew up visiting durward’s glen outside baraboo, wisconsin. it was/is a stupendous place: a secluded sandstone and conglomerate gorge flanking prentice creek on a small wooded lot outside the precambrian baraboo hills.
later on in life, when i moved to milwaukee, i found out that the glen was named after bernard durward, a scottish immigrant to milwaukee in the 1840s and a transplant to the baraboo area in the 1860s. i also found out that i currently live on the same street he lived on way back then.
all this (and that he became the first professor of english at the catholic seminary here near milwaukee and was an artist and poet) led me to start getting together a new edition of his poems, which i’m hoping to publish within the next couple years.
but in the meantime, i’m just itching to get his work out there sooner than that, so: i’ve recently come into a copy of durward’s poems from 1882. i’m going to start posting here regularly an audio file of one milwaukeean (me) reading another milwaukeean’s (durward) poems. we’ll see if i can make it happen daily, but every few days anyway.
two further bits: 1) the illustrations will be images from bernard’s son’s book wildflowers of the glen (1875), used by permission of the milwaukee public library, which holds the volume now, and 2) this is 19th-century american verse, so sometimes there will be some settler-colonial sentiments present—this is a sad but real aspect of midwestern history. i won’t post poems that are particularly problematic if i come across any. but to be clear: the durwards and my own ancestors and lots of yankees and european immigrants directly benefited from the land-grabs of the american federal and wisconsin state governments, and this was a terrible terrible series of events for the indigenous peoples of “the old northwest” and for the colonizers and the descendants of all of the too. as junot díaz says, “we’ve all been in the sh*t ever since.”
history being what it is, i still think generally that folks’ art is worth engaging and wrestling with even in their limitations, as we all have our limitations as well.
with that, poem #1, “the dells“: